Hello, fellow writers! All of you who are process nerds, this series is for you. I’m going to talk about my writing process for The Joy of Poetry.
I love to hear how other writers work and am hoping you enjoy the same kind of thing. What I’m sharing in this series is not How to Do It but rather How I Did It This Time. If I were to get a new book contract tomorrow, my process might be different.
The first thing I want to share, especially after reading a recent post from Ann Kroeker about writer moms, is that I do not have young children. One chick has already flown the coop, and the other attends a boarding school, so I am living in a pseudo empty nest.
When people ask why I wrote The Joy of Poetry, they are usually shocked when I answer, “I was asked to.” The publisher contacted me on January 1, 2014, and asked if I’d like to write a book. She already had the title picked out. I signed the contract that day. How did such an amazing opportunity happen? It was a blessing, pure and simple (Ronald Wallace: “Blessings / occur.“)
However, I did other writerly things besides my job. I participated in online writing communities, especially Tweetspeak Poetry. I occasionally submitted poems to contests or journals. I’ve been in a writing group for a decade, and I sometimes visit others. Scribbling quietly has its place, and believe me, most of what I scribble will stay quiet. But there’s also a place for getting your words and yourself out there.
That’s the only part of this story that was easy breezy. The rest? Let’s just say it didn’t go as planned.
I am grateful this book was essentially an assignment and that I write by assignment for a living. This book simply would not have been written otherwise. I had no idea I was so passionate about the joy of poetry until someone asked me to write about it. And I had no plans to write about my mom, other than the poems I’d already posted online, until I was given the opportunity to rewrite the book. If it had all been my idea, I think I would have given up.
After my mom died, many people approached me and asked me to write a book about her. I declined, knowing the publishing industry was not clamoring for the tale of another woman (without a platform) who faced cancer bravely. Although my mom was proud of my poems, even way back in second grade when it was all by assignment, poetry wasn’t her jam. The idea that I might use poems to tell her story would have made no sense to her. It didn’t make sense to me at first either. It was my publisher’s idea.